It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our member Rev. Joseph Ben-David on October 7, 2020 at the age 100. His spirituality, sense of humor and appreciation of life will be missed.
Joseph Ben-David was born in Prague in 1920. He lived with his parents and his younger brother in the center of the Czechoslovak capital. His father owned a printing ink factory and, after leaving high school, he joined him at work and learned his trade. As a teenager, Joseph became aware of the Unitarian Church in Prague and became a speaker and activist for social causes. He was also a youth leader for the Zionist Youth Movement. Joseph’s father died shortly after the Nazis occupied Prague in 1939 and, in the fall of that year, Joseph left for Palestine. His mother intended to follow but was deported to a concentration camp where she died.
Joseph arrived in Palestine in 1940 and settled in Tel Aviv. He established a lab where he produced printing media – ink, cement, glue and printing rollers. As a conscientious objector during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Joseph worked as a hygiene officer and later became a sanitary officer in Jerusalem. He also continued his activist efforts in social justice.
Joseph moved to New York City in 1954 and soon became involved in the American Humanist Association in New York, first as a speaker and later as chapter president.
Over the course of a long career he attracted large numbers of followers with his teachings on humanist psychology, philosophy and spiritual identity. A highly motivated public speaker and educator, he helped his followers interact on a foundation of reason, mutual understanding and self-actualization.
In 1973, he founded the independent Church of Humanism and its integral Humanist Foundation in the Humanist spirit of Unitarian minister Dr. Norbert ?apek. As Senior Minister of the Church, and having taken a vow of poverty, he delivered countless lectures based on the writings of the most enlightened voices of our time, including Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Hannah Arendt, Fritz Perls and Germaine Greer.
The Church of Humanism elected the playwright and civil rights freedom activist Václav Havel as recipient of the Church’s Humanist of the Year 1979 award during Havel’s imprisonment under the Communist regime. Havel later became president of the Czech Republic and met Ben-David in New York City.
Ben-David is survived by his wife of 50 years, Alyson Tufts Ben-David, his son Daniel Ben-David, and five grandchildren.
Video at National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, IA